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Address e-learning challenges, students urge

AS universities set to keep lectures online until the end of the year, there is an increased spotlight on the challenges faced by students.

Among them are issues related to communications, assessments and scheduling. For online learning to proceed as a long-term continuity plan, there is an urgent need to address these problems.

Pursuing a mixed mode of a master’s degree in English Literary Studies at the International Islamic University Malaysia, Amirul Nazmi Azrymi, 24, believes the virtues of face-to-face discourse are irreplaceable.

“Computer-mediated communication is seen to be less effective as it lacks body language, facial expression and tone.

“It’s difficult to share our points as online discussions can move swiftly from one topic to another. Engaging a big class in a live forum can be challenging too.”

Hence, he said, a moderator’s role is critical to structure an effective virtual discussion.

“By regulating who can speak up at one time, the moderator can ensure that no one is left behind.”

There is a growing concern of plagiarism surrounding online exams, said Amirul.

“As such concerns linger, I suggest that lecturers produce questions that examine students’ critical and creative thinking. Give a leeway for students to use materials as references, provided they include correct and adequate citations.”

He also saw the “flipped classroom” method as a viable approach to presentations.

“Students are required to submit their presentation material a few days earlier to be shared among the class for early reading. On the day of the lesson, all students can engage in a discussion on the subject.”

He hopes that universities can have full autonomy in making academic decisions instead of following a one-size-fits-all approach set by the ministry.

“For education to persevere in this pandemic, the most accommodating steps must be taken.

“There is an issue of accessibility. Prior to the ministry’s announcement, my university has provided guidelines for our online Teaching and Learning (TnL), where students can return to campus should circumstances deem unconducive for us to study at home.

“Apart from poor Internet coverage, other factors at home can render us unable to focus during classes or feel guilty for choosing our studies over family obligations.

“I hope that every student will be given the choice to return to campus, not just final-year or research students. With standard operating procedures in place, it should be up to universities to ensure the safety of students who want to seek knowledge under these conditions.”

Meanwhile, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Bachelor of Technology with Education (mechanical engineering) student Nabilah Syafiqah Sulaiman said lecturers’ support is key in online learning.

“Most of my lecturers have been understanding. They constantly ask about our ability to attend their classes and assign tasks systematically. But there are a few lecturers who do not pay much attention to students and only distribute work to be submitted on certain dates.”

Nevertheless, the 21-year-old student said she understands that challenges are felt both by students and lecturers.

“To make it easier for both parties, assessments can be carried out through written assignments and online discussions.

“I found it impossible for students to effectively communicate during a live online presentation. Lecturers need to take into account the Internet speed and the quality of the medium used. It would be better to submit a recorded video presentation.

“Complex assignments can be split into smaller components. Lecturers can assess students at several points within the learning process and provide feedback.” Hoping for a standardised curriculum for remote learning, Nabilah expects the ministry to address key challenges faced by students.

“It’s important to address the struggle in switching from traditional classroom learning to computer-based learning.

“Next, students who lack strong Internet access or devices may fail to catch up with their classmates. There are students falling behind and having thoughts of abandoning their education. The ministry can help by providing free electronic devices to them.”

Proceeding with online learning until December requires students to step out of their comfort zones, said Universiti Teknologi Mara communication student Sri Nur Sabrina Muhammad Afif, 23.

“If we find it hard to adapt to the new norm, we need to push ourselves more. Studying online is not bad if we know how to prioritise well.”

The flexibility that comes with online lessons is what she enjoys the most.

“I can move at my own pace and fully observe what is being taught before I move on to the next class. It allows for more personal development as well.”

However, the inability to meet lecturers in person can prevent students from fully understanding the subject, she said.

For virtual lectures to improve, Sri Nur Sabrina hopes that lecturers can consider having multiple sessions with short breaks in between.

“This gives students time to think about the topic and form questions about it. It is also better to keep the class short because not every student has the same level of accessibility to the Internet.

“I also think that assessments and exams should be uploaded on the university’s portal to make it easier for everyone, especially for lecturers to monitor the progress of students.”

Recently, the Higher Education Ministry announced that all TnL in universities will continue online until Dec 31, with exceptions given to five groups of students. The five groups are research mode postgraduate students, certificate, diploma and degree final year and final semester students whose work require special equipment; final semester and final year students with an unconducive home environment or without Internet access; special needs students in technical vocational education and training (TVET) courses at polytechnics and community colleges who need face-to-face teaching and learning; and new students for the 2020/2021 academic year.

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